Indonesia is stacked with glorious hidden beaches, island escapes, and more adventure than I care to dream about. But when I visited Indonesia last year, what blew me away was the incredible friendliness extended my way by the locals.
I’m not talking about stall holders who are being friendly because they want you to buy a $3 pair of genuine Ray Bans (I did that anyway). And I’m not talking about the people paid to be there.
I’m talking about the people going about their daily life who just want to say hi. It was the unexpected highlight of my vacation in Indonesia.
Kota Tua, the Old City, Jakarta
My first full day in Jakarta was spent in the Old City on Independence Day, so the main square was abuzz. People were riding bikes around the plaza, the cafes were bursting at the seams and school kids were enjoying their day off in the sun.
It started slowly, but every so often someone would stop me and ask for a photo with me and the pretty blonde lady I was with (Hi Phoebe of Little Grey Box). We’d stop and smile and carry on.
After a couple of selfies, another group would slide in and ask for a shot, which of course we obliged. Because we had things to see that’s where it usually ended, but it become more and more frequent.
At one point, Jackson (from Journey Era) and I found ourselves standing on a platform drinking morning Bintangs while an actual queue formed for photos with us tall, white Aussies. It was entertaining 15 minutes but eventually we had to call it, otherwise we’d be there all day.
I never quite worked it out, but someone told me that asking for a photo was the Indonesians’ way of welcoming foreigners to their country.
School kids in Bogor Botanical Garden, West Java
About an hour from Jakarta is the city of Bogor, our tour group was to visit the Presidential Palace. Unfortunately our approval didn’t go through, but we still had a great time exploring the park having morning Bintangs in the heat. While we were walking an enormous group of school kids walked past. I mean, this group of kids took maybe 20 minutes to get past; it was huge. (See the video at the bottom to get an idea).
Being a group of bloggers, we all had our cameras and GoPros out and these kids were not shy. They absolutely loved getting in front of the camera, taking selfies with us, and singing songs the whole time. Look at all those lovely big smiles! I’ve never seen school kids so happy to be in uniform before.
Senggarang Village, Bintan Island
At the very edge of Indonesia lies Bintan Island. At only 60 minutes away by boat, it is actually closer to Singapore than almost every other part of Indonesia. Senggarang is a village on Bintan Island. Visitors didn’t seem real common in this part of the country, but that didn’t dampen their hospitality.
One family allowed us to use their toilet. (I use the term toilet very loosely, what I mean is a literal hole in the deck out back above the water). There house was nothing more than a large living room, a bedroom and a small deck out back that looked over the sea.
My description makes it sound a little more glamorous than it was, but that didn’t stop them from inviting about 5 of us in to use their facilities. And given that there are no strip malls, restaurants or public toilets, finding somewhere respectable to go was going to be tough. We were very appreciative.
Mesa Village, Labuan Bajo
When you visit the beautiful region of Flores, you expect Komodo Dragons, pink beaches, bats, and cruising on sun decks with Bintangs. What you don’t expect is a small fishing village on an island without access to fresh water.
When our tender docked to the pier of Mesa Island we didn’t know what to expect. But it was pretty clear that the village received visitors quite regularly. The locals were friendly enough, but the giveaway was how confident the kids were around complete strangers.
They loved being subjects in photos, and were even fascinated seeing them back on the screen. One kid in a motorbike helmet took me by the hand and led me through the streets filled with stilted huts and satellite dishes. It was a truly unique day for me.
Melo Village, West Manggarai
Labuan Bajo is home to the people of West Manggarai who are depending on farming goods such as durian, hazelnut, bananas, and pineapple. We were welcomed by the villagers with woven scarfs and led up the hill for the welcoming ceremony, which involved the receiving of a canteen of water, a chicken, and the mutual exchange of 20,000 rupiah.
The villagers cooked us lunch, which was a fairly standard local diet involving rice, fried fish, green beans, a beef dish and other similar delicacies. It was pretty good considering it was cooked in a small hut out back
We mingled with the villagers, watched the women weave, took many selfies with the excited kids, and inevitably drank many Bintangs, but the focal point of the day is the cultural performance of the Caci Dance.
The Caci dance is a traditional whip dance used in ceremonies such as births and marriages, as well as to celebrate the beginning of harvest season. There were many elements to the ritual involving many performers, but it centred around a whip fight, where one person whips another who has a shield made from local materials.
There are so many memories I will take away from Indonesia, but one of the highlights was more certainly the way were treated by the locals. Always with respect, and always with a smile. Something you don’t always find in a foreign country, no matter who you are.
Watch my adventure through Indonesia below:
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